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A headstrong young woman defies the wishes of her father by ignoring the romantic advances of a powerful local landowner, instead deciding to run her own ranch with the help of a recovering alcoholic and his friend.
For more about Ramrod and the Ramrod Blu-ray release, see Ramrod Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on November 19, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.0 out of 5.
Starring: Joel McCrea, Veronica Lake, Don DeFore, Donald Crisp, Preston Foster
Director: André De Toth
» See full cast & crew
Ramrod Blu-ray Review
The Farmer and the Cowhand should be friends.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, November 19, 2012
Paramount was home to two of the most iconic blondes in motion picture history, both of whom suffered from mental instability and post-Hollywood careers that were fraught with traumas and turbulence. Frances Farmer was signed by Paramount on her 22nd birthday in September 1935 and by the end of 1936 was arguably Paramount's hottest property, albeit mostly due to her loan out to Goldwyn for Come and Get It. A mere five years later she was being offered only B-movies and supporting roles at her home studio while managing to eke out a few higher profile parts at other studios, but by the end of 1942, she had been dropped by Paramount and had been arrested for drunk driving, an arrest which would ultimately lead to her headline making court appearance in 1943 and her eventual institutionalizations which would fill out the bulk of the remainder of that decade. Veronica Lake, by contrast, came to Paramount in 1941, just when Farmer's career was on the ropes, after having had a less than stellar tour at RKO. Lake made an immediate impression at Paramount, though in one of those unintentional ironies that seems to haunt Hollywood with some regularity, the role that really put her on the map, that of the girl in Sullivan's Travels, was at one point thought of as a perfect vehicle for Frances Farmer, the actress whom Preston Sturges evidently preferred for the film, but who was scuttled by the studio which was finding Farmer increasingly unreliable and unstable. (Many of us who have been fascinated by Farmer's life story through the years have wondered what might have happened had Farmer indeed made Sullivan's Travels, which would have reunited her with her Come and Get It co-star Joel McCrea and been a high profile project with a strong writer-director that might have resuscitated her career and kept her on track emotionally.) Lake churned out a rather impressive quantity of films at Paramount during her seven year ordeal, but, as in the case of Farmer, excessive drinking led to her being shunned by her fellow actors and Lake was also dropped by the studio at the end of her first tour of duty. Unlike Farmer, however, Lake was able to keep working, at least for a while, something fostered by her then husband, André de Toth. De Toth never really captured the brass ring in Hollywood, instead trafficking in B-movies or cult appeal items (like the 3D House of Wax). Ramrod is a fitfully entertaining 1947 western reuniting Lake with Joel McCrea, but it's a film that never really finds a convincing or comfortable melding of Lake's very contemporary sultriness with a nineteenth century western setting.
One of the major issues that led to Farmer's emotional turmoil was the fact that she absolutely hated being a glamorous film star, and in fact seemed to resent how incredibly beautiful she was and how that limited the way Hollywood saw her. Lake on the other hand had no ambitions to storm the legitimate theater world the way Farmer did, and Lake seemed happy enough to utilize her physical charms to advance her career (though she was on record as saying that she, like Farmer, abhorred cheesecake and only used her hair to intimate her smoldering sexuality). Lake had no real issues being labeled "the peek-a-boo girl" (by contrast, when Farmer returned to Paramount after her triumph in Clifford Odets' Golden Boy, the press hype surrounding her pretty turgid 1938 film Ride a Crooked Mile highlighted her braided hairstyle which the studio donned "The Golden Girl", something that Farmer dismissed with a typical sneer). It's interesting to see De Toth play on Lake's image, however subtly, in some scenes in Ramrod where he shoots his wife from an angle which suggests the iconic peek-a-boo style without ever actually recreating it, something that might—as quite a bit of this film does—seem out of place with its cowhand milieu.
Lake never really had the acting gravitas that Farmer did, at least in her own mind (as mentioned by some of her collaborators at the time), but Ramrod proves that she was much more than just a pretty face. While some of her performance here seems kind of lackluster and even somnambulistic, one fantastic scene early in the film when she loses it with her father (Charlie Ruggles, who ironically played Farmer's father in 1937's Exclusive) reveals a tempestuousness that she rarely disclosed on screen. It's a visceral moment and certainly a very unusual one in the annals of Lake's sex goddess screen persona. It's also rather interesting that de Toth casts his then wife in a less than completely sympathetic role as Connie, and in fact Connie (probably not so coincidentally Lake's real life first name) is a rather shaded character, one as devious in her own way as her scheming father is.
The basic plot of Ramrod finds Connie being given a large spread of land by her erstwhile fiancé, a kind of namby pamby guy who lets Connie's father and town bigwig Frank Ivey (Preson Foster) walk all over him and throw him out on his ear. Connie's Dad has made no secret about wanting Connie to settle down with Ivey, but Connie has other plans, and that includes putting Ivey and her father in their respective places. To do that she hires foreman Dave Nash (Joel McCrea), who has his own reasons for hating Ivey. Nash hires some buddies to help out (including future Hazel Dad Don DeFore), but Connie's machinations lead to unexpected tragedy. Meanwhile Dave is attempting to drown his sorrows in dissolute drinking over having lost both a wife and a son, which a lovely young townswoman named Rose (Arleen Whelan) is attempting to snap him out of. It's one of Ramrod's most interesting facets that it refuses to pair McCrea and Lake as a romantic duo, despite the film's emphasis on Connie obviously having romantic designs on Dave.
Ramrod turns out to be a study in several wounded souls attempting to get to their own self defined safe place. Connie wants an independent life away from the imperious influence of her father, and Dave wants to escape the harrowing memories of a former, happier life. The film is rather a dark outing, perhaps why it's sometimes thought of as another Western—noir hybrid like another recent Olive release, Pursued, also from 1947. Pursued eschewed one of the standard tropes of noir, namely the alluring and destructive femme fatale, in favor of an emotionally roiled hero. Ramrod still posits a similar kind of troubled male lead, but in one of the most fascinating twists in this particular film, the seductive power of the femme fatale actually leads to her own downfall rather than the hero's.
Ramrod Blu-ray, Video Quality
Ramrod is presented on Blu-ray courtesy of Olive Films with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 1.33:1. This particular Olive release features some of the more unfortunately problematic elements of any film from this era which this niche label has brought out. Originally released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer but now licensed by Paramount, there is some notable damage to weather in Ramrod, typically some density issues, emulsion problems, print through and milkiness that often mars the left side of the frame. Several scenes also have some minimal warping, and a number of cutaways (most notably in the climactic scene with DeFore and Foster) have very poor and variable contrast in the darker sequences. All of this said, large swaths of Ramrod look rather good, at least by comparison. Aside from the expected specks and flecks, a lot of the film looks rather nice, with excellent clarity and sharpness and decent fine detail in the close-ups.
Ramrod Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Ramrod's lossless DTS-HD Master Audio mono mix sounds rather spry for its age, with Adolph Deutsch's appealingly romantic and boisterous score adding immeasurably to the impact of the film. Dialogue is cleanly presented, though it's very easy to hear quite clear differences in scenes that were filmed on location versus studio bound segments. In fact a couple of times, close-ups were obviously done in the studio while master shots were done on location and the difference in sound is quite startling at edit points.
Ramrod Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
No supplements of any kind are included on this Blu-ray disc.
Ramrod Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Lake is too frequently pegged as a sex siren who led Alan Ladd astray in a number of iconic noirs, but she really had some unexpected depth and nuance, which she gets to show, albeit fitfully, in Ramrod. The film itself is a really interesting examination of troubled people and the lengths they'll go to to achieve some semblance of normalcy. Ruggles is miles apart from his usual cuddly soft character roles, and McCrea begins to show some of the world weariness that would become his stock in trade quite a bit later in his career. The supporting cast, including such stalwarts as Donald Crisp and Lloyd Bridges, is uniformly excellent. Though this Olive release has some occasionally spotty video quality, overall this release comes Recommended.
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Ramrod Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Ramrod Blu-ray - September 8, 2012
Independent distributors Olive Films have revealed that they are planning to bring to Blu-ray director André De Toth's Ramrod (1947), starring Veronica Lake (This Gun for Hire, The Blue Dahlia), Joel McCrea (Sullivan's Travels), and Don DeFore (It Happened on Fifth ...
Ramrod Blu-ray Screenshots
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